Sarrazin's Truths Political Correctness Is Silencing an Important Debate
German central banker Thilo Sarrazin is being pilloried over his polemic chastising of Muslims, but there are a few things his critics clearly fail to understand. You can't cast away what the man embodies: The anger of a German people who are tired of being cursed at when they offer to help foreigners to integrate.
Nothing is as it used to be. In this season of public outrage, the case of Thilo Sarrazin has grown far bigger than Sarrazin. It's much bigger than the man or the Islam-critical book he wrote.
The Sarrazin case is also a Merkel case, a case for his party, the center-left Social Democrats, and for the German political and media establishment. Sarrazin has become code for the outrage over how the politically correct branch of Germany's consensus-based society have dispatched their stewards to escort this unsettling heckler to the door. On their way, they seem to be trying to teach him a lesson, as well: "We will beat tolerance into you."
Sarrazin isn't telegenic and he often gets tangled up in statistics. When it comes to styling, he's at a loss -- he is unkempt when he appears on the myriad talkshows that keep our entertainment society going. He slips on one banana peel of political correctness after another, opening himself to attack with his statements about genetics. But his findings on the failed integration of Turkish and Arab immigrants are beyond any doubt.
Sarrazin has been forced out of the Bundesbank. The SPD wants to kick him out of the party, too. Invitations previously extended to Sarrazin are being withdrawn. The culture page editors at the German weekly Die Zeit are crying foul and the editors at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung are damning Sarrazin for passages he didn't even write.
Technicians of Exclusion
But what all these technicians of exclusion fail to see is that you cannot cast away the very thing that Sarrazin embodies: the anger of people who are sick and tired -- after putting a long and arduous process of Enlightenment behind them -- of being confronted with pre-Enlightenment elements that are returning to the center of our society. They are sick of being cursed or laughed at when they offer assistance with integration. And they are tired about reading about Islamist associations that have one degree of separation from terrorism, of honor killings, of death threats against cartoonists and filmmakers. They are horrified that "you Christian" has now become an insult on some school playgrounds. And they are angry that Western leaders are now being forced to fight for a woman in an Islamic country because she has been accused of adultery and is being threatened with stoning.
Strangely enough, a good number of our fellow Turkish citizens are more outraged by Sarrazin's book than they are about those things.
Should those Turkish immigrants fortunate enough to have exemplary careers not start exerting a bit of influence over their fellow immigrants and their neighborhoods, so that the Koran shows its gentler, more charitable face? Isn't it time for them to stand up and show their backing for plurality and freedom of expression?
That certainly wasn't the case recently when the Migration Board, an umbrella group for immigrant organizations in Berlin, spoke out successfully against a reading by Sarrazin during the International Literature Festival in the German capital. Bernd Scherer, who heads the House of World Cultures, the venue of the festival, buckled under the pressure and cancelled the event. Now the reading is to be held at another venue on Friday -- under police protection.
Protecting the Public from Poison and Temptation
But as a society, we seem content with the fact that our politicians, opportunistic as they have become, are struggling under the same weight. And as far as the politically correct media is concerned, it hardly functions any longer.
Until now, the media was dominated by two archetypes: There was the patronizing governess style, which assumes the public is ignorant and, without being asked to do so, seeks to protect it from poison and temptation. Or there is the energetic denouncing approach, which also assumes the public is dim and focuses on revealing secrets: Mr. Teacher, I've noticed a brown spot, you can't see it with the naked eye, but because I'm so smart I was able to spot it.
Klaus von Dohnanyi, who is to defend Sarrazin as the SPD seeks to expel him, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper how Germany was overshadowed by its Holocaust history and how a culture had developed whereby anyone saying the words "gene" or "Jew" was automatically considered suspect.
He is right to complain that we shy away from debates which "are commonplace in other countries." Among those is the discussion that "specific ethnic groups" share specific characteristics.
Simply Don't Get It
Debates about identity and cultural dominance are ubiquitous in an increasingly globalized world -- in the United States just as in the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands or Denmark. Such a debate doesn't exclude cosmopolitanism in the slightest. It merely represents an insistence on maintaining traditions and values. Religion is one of them and it is not something that people will let go of lightly.
These are the passages of Sarrazin's book that I find most interesting. Those which melancholically reflect that Germans are not only demographically working towards their own demise, but also that they are bidding farewell to their cultural and educational background. Whoever calls that racist simply doesn't get it.
But ever since the Sarrazin case, it is clear that intimidation from the politically correct thought police of the media and the threats they issue of casting people out of society no longer work. By now the public has a highly developed instinct for fairness.
The support Sarrazin has received demonstrates this. The Germans are learning. Maybe, one day, the country's newsrooms will catch up with where British colleagues have long been -- a place where debates can be conducted without blinders or language controls.
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2010
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH